Frances The Mute, the second studio album by The Mars Volta is one of the most interesting and creative albums ever released.
No other album has ever had such an effect on me, at first I hated this album, resented the large music free sections, impenetrable lyrics and Latin music influence which had largely been absent on the band’s debut.
Eventually I grew to enjoy about half of about half tracks on the album, hating the beginning or end of some songs, or enjoying the choruses of songs but not caring for what just seemed like jams that weren’t going anywhere.
Then one day, I just ‘got it’ and ever listen since has been an absolute joy, one of the most impressive growers in musical history. Every listen reveals more saxophone parts, more keyboard sections, a new bass slide or guitar vibrato or a 3rd guitar part altogether.
The lyrics too, which frustrate the listener so much on first listen, intrigue for years afterward due to Cedric’s unique style which at times seems like a stream of consciousness, at times seems like a word replacement puzzle and at times seem to contradict information given in press releases.
The story which accompanied the album was about the search for the character’s biological parents, which is portrayed in lyrics like ‘All the brittle tombs, Five hundred little q’s I’m splitting hairs to Match the faces,’ or ‘Who do you trust Will they feed us the womb Chrome the fetal mirage,’ ‘ and ‘Umbilical syllables Left to decode, There was no cradle I can taste it, Come on now, All night I’ll hunt for you, Let me show you what I mean.’
If these are examples of the most obvious lyrics you can imagine how difficult it is to interpret lyrics like ‘She was a mink hand-job in Sarcophagus heels.’
Its easy to get caught up on the lyrics and forget about the quality of the album, an album which begins and ends with an acoustic guitar piece called ‘Sarcophagi,’ that sounds like its coming out of a transistor radio in the distance, and album that opens with a 13 minute song and contains a 30 minutes song called Cassandra Gemini, which is supposed to be split into five movements but is instead slit randomly across eight tracks, some of which are incorrectly labeled as being a part of the previous 13 minute track, ‘Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore,’ which is contained entirely on track four.
The album is best listened to as a whole, from beginning to end as each song relates to another lyrically or musically at some point or another, and the majority of tracks have atmospheric intros or outros to establish a mood or help tell the story that you are more tempted to skip if you just wish to listen to one track.
I am a big fan of concept albums, but never before have I heard an album that had more thought and effort put into it, nor an album with more secret alcoves and hidden meanings, where sections of music represent sections of the story or means of story telling.
On paper, Frances The Mute is one of the most interesting albums I’ve ever heard of, but I’m glad to report that on CD its also one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to, and it entertains me just as much as it impresses me.